Wary of slave past, Dwight Hall mulls name change

In the wake of a report issued over the summer detailing Yale’s history with slavery, members of the Dwight Hall Cabinet convened yesterday to discuss the possible changing of their organization’s name.

Dwight Hall is named for Timothy Dwight, a former Yale president and minister who is identified as a supporter of slavery in “Yale, Slavery and Abolition,” a report published this summer by three Yale doctoral candidates. The organization did not reach a decision on the issue last night, and the group’s leadership decided to defer the decision until later.

Dwight Hall’s executive committee began discussing a potential name change at a retreat this fall, said Dwight Hall executive committee member-at-large Casey Pitts ’03.

At the beginning of the meeting, Dwight Hall coordinator Alan Schoenfeld ’02 read an executive committee statement which did not support changing Dwight Hall’s name.

“We decided that the work Dwight Hall does represents in itself that we don’t support any of the activities that have been attributed to Timothy Dwight,” Pitts said.

Dwight Hall cabinet members decided to hold another cabinet meeting to further discuss the issue. Although the cabinet did not reach a definite decision, Dwight Hall executive committee members said they were happy with the beginning.

“I think the most important thing right now is the meeting tonight clearly demonstrated the need for this dialogue to take place over the next month or two with everyone in the Dwight Hall community,” Pitts said.

Dwight Hall general secretary Kathrine Burdick said the open forum is important to the discussion.

“What we’re hoping to do is to provide an open forum for our members,” Burdick said. “It’s a serious issue for us and we certainly want to make sure we have a careful discussion of what the name means and what Dwight Hall means above and beyond the name.”

Burdick said the discussion may turn into a recommendation to the Dwight Hall board, which is made up largely of alumni.

“The board might put it on the agenda anyway,” Burdick said.

Antony Dugdale and J.J. Fueser GRD ’02, two of the authors of the slavery report, also spoke briefly about the information they gathered.

Robert Forbes, associate director of Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, challenged the view that Dwight supported slavery. He said that Dwight was a dedicated minister who believed that slavery was wrong because the slavemaster stood between the slaveowner and God. He also said that Dwight did not subscribe to popular views of the time, such as the natural inferiority of slaves.

Dugdale said Timothy Dwight was the owner of one slave as well as a supporter of slavery.

“I think Timothy Dwight is like Jerry Falwell,” Dugdale said. “He’s not like David Duke.”

Dugdale said the argument is about Dwight Hall’s legacy.

“The issue is not whether Timothy Dwight is a good person or a bad person, the question is who does Dwight Hall want to take on as their patron saint,” Dugdale said.

The name of the organization can be changed by the Dwight Hall board of trustees, but the name of the building was named by a sponsor and cannot be changed, Burdick said. In 1898, the organization of Dwight Hall was formed as an independent, non-profit religious and service organization.

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